“In this conference room, we say what we’re thinking, we keep it upbeat and fun, and we don’t leave until we reach the goal of our meeting,” Derin, our former team lead used to say. But when I stopped saying what I was thinking, not her or anyone else in the room noticed. If they did, none let it show. I think there may have been a relief, that there had ceased to be ideas which everyone had to expend energy in shooting down. And so, I let them do the talking. I gave them the floor. And kept my thoughts to myself.
The establishment was one of those names I knew, but loosely, and never bothered to consider as a future workplace. Its projected image was as tall and whitewashed as its building. Every morning, while on my way to the medium marketing establishment, where I worked in Design, I’d feel both inspired and intimidated by the breed of women, in their red bottoms and well crafted clothing, alighting from polished cars with an air of domination, structured bags in hand, unrushed, ready and proud to work there.
Theirs was a world with more gloss and attractiveness than what, I thought, was possible and necessary in that phase of my life. I was living in a world of creases, dents and dust. So when their HR contacted me with an offer for a job I did not apply for, I thought it was a scam and replied with a curt demand for the complete detail of what they were offering.
A reply came with a compensation package that was many layers ahead of where I was. Still, driven by the belief that it was a scam, I pushed for better, and after a meeting realised it was no scam at all.
On my first day at The Establishment, I went through the day feeling targeted. The high ceiling, tall pillars and the grand manner of my new colleagues combined to pressure me to submission. There was a culture of competitiveness going on. And everyone appeared to be reaching for an impossible level of plush refinement.
That culture was strange to me. I am a team player. I appreciate sophistication. But I also believe that flaws are an intrinsic part of life. They carry the potential to create beauty. Therefore, they are materials for art. And that makes them useful.
That belief of mine should have been a plus, instead it rounded me up to a place of constant defense. My ideas were disregarded, because they were too practical. My solutions were dissected and abandoned, because they communicated the imperfections of humanity in a not-very-degrading way. And when those were absent, my work was shot down because I, a new threat, could not be allowed to thrive.
There was a silent aggressive fight to protect the informal power structure of the company. The Queen wanted to stay as Queen, and this good turn in my life was fast becoming a nightmare. Everyday, I went to work feeling enormous anxiety about who I will have to fight off that day, to keep my job. It was in that state that I arrived home one evening and found a delivery waiting for me. It was a gift from a senior executive who was way higher in the organisational hierarchy and occupied an office in the top floor of the building. She and I had never had a one on one conversation, except she sent me a commendation, once, on a task I handled.
What she sent me was a framed full-length mirror with a stand. Its accompanying message said,
That was all she said, but I understood every bit of what she was communicating. I have always known that people respond to others based on what they think of them. And it is the responsibility of an individual to guide how others perceive or think about them.
Her gesture helped me to realize that in my admiration for my colleague and my overflowing appreciation for the opportunity to be a part of The Establishment, I had unconsciously walked in through the door, on my first day, with an aura of subservience. I had also neglected to assert, to my new colleagues, my value or the value I was aspiring for.
Consequently, I took these four actions to win:
- I changed how I present my body: A good mirror will show you the true picture of your look. Mine showed me that the way I presented my body also worked to strengthen my colleagues’ low view of me. The problem wasn’t about the quality of my clothes. It was about their fit and the way I styled them. I took the correction and designed a better presentation of my body.
- I stood in front of my new mirror to practice my speech and refine my social conducts, as communication is the sum of words, action and body language. I decided to give more attention to how I put my points across to others. I worked on my choice of words, facial expression and tone of voice. I also researched and practiced the appropriate conducts of the elite.
- I improved my posture and gait: Carriage does a lot to a person’s persona. On that account, I polished the way I position my body when I am standing, sitting or walking. I practiced in front of the mirror, until it became a part of me.
- I harvested feedback and validation from my image in the mirror: Everyone desire some level of validation from others, especially those we admire or those who are close to us. In the presence of only a little amount of validation, I turned to my mirror for feedback on my worth and affirmed myself everyday.
These, added to my talents and skills, took me from a one to a ten.